Diamonds Are Forever – James Bond Ultimate Edition

Diamonds Are Forever – James Bond Ultimate Edition (1971)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentaries, Interview, Deleted Scenes, Much More

The James Bond franchise has survived endless parodies, changing social mores, and a long line of actors to remain the most successful and longest-running movie series in history. Inspired by the works of Ian Fleming, the titular secret agent has been "officially" incarnated by six different actors over the course of four decades, and the films have entered a realm of pop culture unto themselves with their amazing gadgets, clever wordplay, and harem of sexy (and often salaciously named) femme fatales. As the franchise bravely plunges into a new era with a fresh face and darker edge, MGM Home Entertainment keeps its history alive with the impressive "James Bond Ultimate Edition," a four-volume collection that includes all 20 previous EON Productions films in new two-disc sets. Submitted for our approval from Volume 1 of this collection is the seventh film in the series, 1971's "Diamonds Are Forever."

After finally killing off his arch nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray), Secret Agent 007 (Sean Connery) returns to base for his newest assignment. He is instructed to uncover an international diamond smuggling operation that has left a trail of murdered smugglers around the world. Taking on the identity of ace smuggler Peter Franks (Joe Robinson), Bond is introduced to Tiffany Case (Jill St. John), a gorgeous diamond smuggler with expensive taste and a penchant for wearing as little as possible. Together, they evade a pair of cheerfully gay assassins (Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) who are responsible for the mysterious trail of murders. Bond's investigation leads him to the conclusion that the mastermind behind this operation is a reclusive entrepreneur named Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean), but when diamonds are concerned, appearances can be deceiving.

The plotline of "Diamonds Are Forever" is nonsensical, to be sure, with outrageous set pieces and hilarious twists around every corner. There is certainly no shortage of randy women, with the notorious appearance of Plenty O'Toole (Lana Wood) and Bond's bizarre fight scene with a pair of bikini-clad foxes named Bambi and Thumper! A wicked car chase through the Las Vegas strip and a nifty moonbuggy escape combine typical Bond action with a surprising amount of camp that borders on self-parody. In fact, it is this element that has kept "Diamonds Are Forever" teetering on the edge of tolerance for series fans, with some finding it a riotous adventure while others see it as something of an embarrassment.

Marking Sean Connery's swan song from the "official" series (he would later revisit the character in the non-EON "Never Say Never Again"), the film presents an aging hero with a noticeable decline in vigor. At 40, Connery seems prematurely aged, out of shape and more vulnerable, opening the door for the older but more agile Roger Moore. His Bond is not as charismatic here as in previous films, and he frequently fades into the background, allowing himself to be upstaged by his more energetic costars.

Jill St. John makes for a marvelous Bond girl, kittenish and sexy but intelligent nonetheless. Putter Smith and Bruce Glover (father of the equally weird Crispin Glover) steal every scene they are in with their nonchalant villainy. The third actor in the series to play Blofeld, Charles Gray brings a somewhat prissy quality to the character, even appearing in drag at one point. Gray projects a persona that is at once charmingly aristocratic and utterly sleazy, making him a perfect villain this time around, after playing an ally in "You Only Live Twice."

By far the best element in this film is John Barry's lush score. With eleven Bond scores on his resumé, his trademark strings and romantic harmonies can elevate even the most inane material to a level of demure sophistication. His title song, with lyrics by longtime collaborator Don Black and scintillating vocals by Shirley Bassey, is flat out one of the best of the Bond songs and my personal favorite. The mystical intro and double entendres perfectly capture the spirit of the character and his exotic escapades.

Released exclusively in Volume 1 of the "James Bond Ultimate Edition," "Diamonds Are Forever" has received a sterling new transfer, digitally restored frame by frame, that is breathtaking in every way. Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen, the print is flawless, totally devoid of grain or dirt and practically sparkling in its clarity. Deep, rich blacks provide superb depth to the picture, and contrast is excellent. Skin tones look natural, and colors are brilliantly rendered, most notably in the flashy Las Vegas car chase. The image is so smooth and sharp that it effectively defies its 35-year age. I am in awe of this transfer.

MGM has given equally fine attention to the audio, providing new Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround mixes, as well as providing the original mono soundtrack. The 5.1 sound is a blast, with action scenes coming alive around you. Gunshots, speeding cars, and explosions thunder from every channel, conveyed with impeccable precision, while dialogue remains clear and audible in the front and center channels. The mix also brings out the finest elements in John Barry's score, perfectly marrying the music and diegetic sound for a dynamic experience. A French 5.1 track is also available, as are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

On disc 1 of this set, the film is accompanied by an excellent audio commentary with many members of the cast and crew. David Naylor provides historical context for the film and connects fragments of individually recorded interviews with the likes of director Guy Hamilton, co-writer Tom Mankiewicz, composer John Barry, and actors Jill St. John, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Putter Smith, and Bruce Glover, among others. It is a cleverly organized commentary that offers a tremendous amount of information about every aspect of the film, from its production to changes from novel to screen. Anecdotes and personal stories are shared, and the number of people involved ensures that it never drags or becomes bogged down, as the audio clips are edited to communicate only the most vital aspects of each comment.

Disc 2 begins with five minutes of footage from a 1971 BBC interview with Sean Connery. The interview is surprisingly revealing, not so much in what is said, but in the attitude that Connery displays. He openly discusses his fondness for the Bond character, but his tone and facial expressions betray a certain cageyness about the whole thing, making it pretty clear that he was ready to pass the baton.

Following this is the five-minute "Lesson #007: Close Quarters Combat," a behind-the-scenes look at Bond's elevator fight with the real Peter Franks, narrated by Guy Hamilton.

Next, we get some deleted footage from the climactic oil rig attack. Test footage for a space satellite scene and for the various explosion scenes follows, with storyboard-to-screen comparisons for the former. All of this is narrated by Michael Wilson.

Alternate and expanded angles are provided for five scenes from the movie, including the elevator fight, the Vegas car chase, and the Bambi and Thumper scene. Six deleted scenes follow.

The "007 Mission Control" segment on this disc is comprised of brief clips from the movie, all organized into different categories (i.e. women, allies, villains, etc.). I don't really get the point of this, as you can simply watch any of these scenes in the film itself. The only parts of this worth mentioning are a textless version of the opening titles (the first time I have ever seen this outside of an anime DVD) and a four-minute look at the locations used in the film, hosted by Maude "Octopussy" Adams.

"Inside Diamonds Are Forever" is a 30-minute documentary, narrated by Patrick Macnee, that examines the production of the film and offers interviews with the cast and crew. Among the fascinating points mentioned here is the initial Americanization of the Bond character before Sean Connery was brought back into the picture, involving the consideration of two American actors—Adam West and John Gavin—for the part.

A second documentary, "Cubby Broccoli: The Man Behind Bond," runs 41 minutes and introduces us to the producer who brought Bond to the screen, Albert R. Broccoli. Broccoli's family fills in the details about his pre-Bond career, which is quite intriguing in and of itself. We learn that the Bond series was really only one chapter in a career filled with significant highs and lows.

Wrapping up this disc are two trailers, five TV spots, three radio ads, and an image gallery.

While not the most tightly constructed of the Bond films or the best outing for Sean Connery, "Diamonds Are Forever" is entertaining action with plenty of the franchise staples. A gentle burlesque of the story elements established by the first six entries, the film foreshadowed the wildly unpredictable direction the series would take in the coming decades. In MGM's new two-disc release, it looks better than it ever has before, and that is saying quite a bit. As a small taste of what is in store for us in the rest of the "James Bond Ultimate Edition," this set is an enticing invitation to what will surely leave 007 fans shaken AND stirred.